Jewish Children
Category: Novels
Level 5.24 7:52 h
Jewish Children is Sholem Aleichem's collection of short stories, most of which revolve around Jewish holidays. Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich, better known under his pen name Sholem Aleichem, was a Yiddish author and playwright.

Jewish Children

Sholem Aleichem

Translated by Hannah Berman

Jewish Children

A Page from the “Song of Songs”

Busie is a name; it is the short for Esther-Liba: Libusa: Busie. She is a year older than I, perhaps two years. And both of us together are no more than twenty years old. Now, if you please, sit down and think it out for yourself. How old am I, and how old is she? But, it is no matter. I will rather tell you her history in a few words.

My older brother, Benny, lived in a village. He had a mill. He could shoot with a gun, ride on a horse, and swim like a devil. One summer he was bathing in the river, and was drowned. Of him they said the proverb had been invented: “All good swimmers are drowned.” He left after him the mill, two horses, a young widow, and one child. The mill was neglected; the horses were sold; the young widow married again, and went away, somewhere, far; and the child was brought to us.

The child was Busie.

That my father loves Busie as if she were his own child; and that my mother frets over her as if she were an only daughter, is readily understood. They look upon her as their comfort in their great sorrow. And I? Why is it that when I come from “cheder,” and do not find Busie I cannot eat? And when Busie comes in, there shines a light in every corner. When Busie talks to me, I drop my eyes. And when she laughs at me I weep. And when she….

I waited long for the dear good Feast of Passover. I would be free then. I would play with Busie in nuts, run about in the open, go down the hill to the river, and show her the ducks in the water. When I tell her, she does not believe me. She laughs. She never believes me. That is, she says nothing, but she laughs. And I hate to be laughed at. She does not believe that I can climb to the highest tree, if I like. She does not believe that I can shoot, if I have anything to shoot with. When the Passover comes — the dear good Passover — and we can go out into the free, open air, away from my father and mother, I shall show her such tricks that she will go wild.

The dear good Passover has come.

They dress us both in kingly clothes. Everything we wear shines and sparkles and glitters. I look at Busie, and I think of the “Song of Songs” that I learnt for the Passover, verse by verse:

“Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes within thy locks; thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.

“Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which come up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.

“Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely; thy temples are like a piece of pomegranate within thy locks.”

Tell me, please, why is it that when one looks at Busie one is reminded of the “Song of Songs”? And when one reads the “Song of Songs,” Busie rises to one’s mind?

A beautiful Passover eve, bright and warm.

“Shall we go?” asks Busie. And I am all afire. My mother does not spare the nuts. She fills our pockets. But she makes us promise that we will not crack a single one before the “Seder.” We may play with them as much as we like. We run off. The nuts rattle as we go. It is beautiful and fine out of doors. The sun is already high in the heavens, and is looking down on the other side of the town. Everything is broad and comfortable and soft and free, around and about. In places, on the hill the other side of the synagogue, one sees a little blade of grass, fresh and green and living. Screaming and fluttering their wings, there fly past us, over our heads, a swarm of young swallows. And again I am reminded of the “Song of Songs” I learnt at school:

“The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”

I feel curiously light. I imagine I have wings, and can rise up and fly away.

A curious noise comes from the town, a roaring, a rushing, a tumult. In a moment the face of the world is changed for me. Our farm is a courtyard, our house is a palace. I am a prince, Busie a princess. The logs of wood that lie at our door are the cedars and firs of the “Song of Songs.” The cat that is warming herself in the sun near the door is a roe, or a young hart; and the hill on the other side of the synagogue is the mountain of Lebanon. The women and the girls who are washing and scrubbing and making everything clean for the Passover are the daughters of Jerusalem.

Everything, everything is from the “Song of Songs.”

I walk about with my hands in my pockets. The nuts shake and rattle. Busie walks beside me, step by step. I cannot go slowly. I am carried along. I want to fly, to soar through the air like an eagle. I let myself go. Busie follows me. I jump from one log of wood to the other. Busie jumps after me. I am up; she is up. I am down; she is down. Who will tire first? “How long is this to last?” asks Busie. And I answer her in the words of the “Song of Songs”: “‘Until the day break, and the shadows flee away.’ Ba! Ba! Ba! You are tired, and I am not.”

I am glad that Busie does not know what I know. And I am sorry for her. My heart aches for her. I imagine she is sorrowful. That is her nature. She is glad and joyous, and suddenly she sits down in a corner and weeps silently. My mother comforts her, and my father showers kisses on her. But, it is useless. Busie weeps until she is exhausted. For whom? For her father who died so young? Or for her mother who married again and went off without a good-bye? Ah, her mother! When one speaks of her mother to her, she turns all colours. She does not believe in her mother. She does not say an unkind word of her, but she does not believe in her. Of that I am sure. I cannot bear to see Busie weeping. I sit down beside her, and try to distract her thoughts from herself.

I keep my hands in my pockets, rattle my nuts, and say to her:

“Guess what I can do if I like.”

“What can you do?”

“If I like, all your nuts will belong to me.”

“Will you win them off me?”

“We shall not even begin to play.”

“Then you will take them from me?”

“No, they will come to me of themselves.”

She lifts her beautiful blue eyes to me — her beautiful, blue, “Song of Songs” eyes. I say to her:

“You think I am jesting. Little fool, I know certain magic words.”

She opens her eyes still wider. I feel big. I explain myself to her, like a great man, a hero:

“We boys know everything. There is a boy at school. Sheika the blind one, we call him. He is blind of one eye. He knows everything in the world, even ‘Kaballa.’ Do you know what ‘Kaballa’ is?”

“No. How am I to know?”

I am in the seventh heaven because I can give her a lecture on “Kaballa.”

”’Kaballa,’ little fool, is a thing that is useful. By means of ‘Kaballa’ I can make myself invisible to you, whilst I can see you. By means of ‘Kaballa’ I can draw wine from a stone, and gold from a wall. By means of ‘Kaballa’ I can manage that we two shall rise up into the clouds, and even higher than the clouds.”

To rise up in the air with Busie, by means of “Kaballa,” into the clouds, and higher than the clouds, and fly with her far, far over the ocean — that was one of my best dreams. There, on the other side of the ocean, live the dwarfs who are descended from the giants of King David’s time. The dwarfs who are, in reality, good-natured folks. They live on sweets and the milk of almonds, and play all day on little flutes, and dance all together in a ring, romping about. They are afraid of nothing, and are fond of strangers. When a man comes to them from our world, they give him plenty to eat and drink, dress him in the finest garments, and load him with gold and silver ornaments. Before he leaves, they fill his pockets with diamonds and rubies which are to be found in their streets like mud in ours.

“Like mud in the streets? Well!” said Busie to me when I had told her all about the dwarfs.

“Do you not believe it?”

“Do you believe it?”

“Why not?”

“Where did you hear it?”

“Where? At school.”

“Ah! At school.”

The sun sank lower and lower, tinting the sky with red gold. The gold was reflected in Busie’s eyes. They were bathed in gold.

I want very much to surprise Busie with Sheika’s tricks which I can imitate by means of “Kaballa.” But they do not surprise her. On the contrary, I think they amuse her. Why else does she show me her pearl-white teeth? I am a little annoyed, and I say to her:

“Maybe you do not believe me?”

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